As a designer, when you hear someone ask if branding is necessary, your head kind of explodes. The immediate, impulsive answer: yes, of course you need branding! Your potential clients need a way to recognize and relate to you. Alex Bigman, author of “3 cool companies join the ‘No Logo’ movement“, talks about how large corporations like Nike and Starbucks don’t just sell material items that can be tossed away, but also abstract concepts like confidence and community, respectively.
But, then we run into companies with zero branding that are incredibly well-know. Bigman mentions Craigslist with its, arguably, almost oversimplified website design and complete lack of branding as we know it. But, the question Bigman poses at the end of the article is: “[i]s the simplicity of Craigslist…just another form of branding”? Could it be that no brand is actually a brand? Or are we thinking too much into and, in fact, they’re running the “Content is King” model and saying “who cares what the site looks like. The content is what matters”? It’s hard to say, but it is not such a far-fetched idea.
At the end of the day, you’re trying to sell or give someone a product or service. Perhaps the “take it or leave it” approach is the best. Perhaps selling a concept is the best. When it comes down to deciding whether you should brand via colors, designs, and messaging, you have to look at a few things:
- Are you trying to sell the company or the product/service?
- Does your product/service speak for itself?
- What are you trying to get across and, based on that, what benefit does branding bring to that effort?
Let’s break these down just a little:
First off, what is branding?
This definition from Entrepreneur sums it up pretty succinctly: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products .
Are you trying to sell the company or the product/service?
If you’re trying to promote for investment purposes or to have your audience fall in love with the people behind it – or what have you – perhaps your goal is to sell the company. In which, like Nike an Starbucks, you could promote with a branding message driven by an abstract concept. But, if you’re trying to sell the product/service, shouldn’t it sell itself? Isn’t that the goal? While not all products sell themselves from the get-go, the promotional content surrounding can help you with that goal. Colors and symbols are just an added bonus for things like color psychology, recognition, and perception. (Here’s a great article on Color Psychology).
Does your product/service speak for itself?
This is similar to the topic of the last question. If your product speaks for itself, let it do so. Don’t muddy it with symbols and colors that may or may not be relevant to the large majority of your audience. Let your product/service engage the audience. Have conversations around it and won’t need to branded in the traditional sense. However, if it doesn’t, that leads us into the next question.
What are you trying to get across and, based on that, what benefit does branding bring to that effort?
If you product/service doesn’t speak for itself (or even if it does), what would imagery, colors, highly targeted message, etc. provide in the overall effort of trying to market it? If you find that there are only a handful of superficial benefits, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the “branding” approach. This could mean, having no brand whatsoever or having a non-branded look be your brand.
The conversation around branding can be so convoluted it’ll make your head spin. But, when thinking about brand, start with these questions and then determine if the benefit outweighs the necessity. And remember, if you’re going to create a brand, you’ll need to be ready to uphold it for it to stick. Below are a few good articles to get you starte don understanding brand and sticking to it.
What’s your opinion? Brand or not to brand?